Homeschool is a better option for some parents and children

Entering the 2021/2022 school year, many families are once again choosing to homeschool their children for the foreseeable future. With the Delta variant surging around the country, and numerous lawmakers and school districts failing to mandate masks or vaccination for staff and students, parents are understandably concerned for the safety of their family. Many of us have family members at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19, or have children who are too young to be vaccinated. I think most parents will agree that last year didn’t go so great. Whether it was attempting remote learning or delving into curricula on our own, we had a litany of poor choices, and we did our best. How can we make sure that we and our kids have a better year?

First, I feel it’s important to understand that children—all children—are wired for learning. This makes your job a lot easier. As a parent, there are a cornucopia of opportunities for experiential learning if you’re willing to be creative and eclectic in your educational approach.

Often when people hear homeschool, they think of school at home. While this is one valid approach, it is not always the most effective way to help your children gain knowledge and skills. Most families do some combination of curriculum based school work and experiential learning. On one end of the homeschooling spectrum is school at home, on the other end of the homeschooling spectrum is unschooling.

Unschooling is free range homeschooling. It is child directed, with as much or little parental involvement as works for that parent/child duo. Parents provide resources and guide discussion. Topics of interest are often researched and explored by the whole family. In unschooling families, day to day activities in the household are education. Doing chores and helping out around the house might not seem all that important to a person’s education, but they are important life skills that help build a sense of responsibility and self sufficiency (and what some people like to call character). Parents who are comfortable with a less structured educational environment often feel that the most important work of childhood is play, and that their children will learn through a sufficiently enriched environment. This approach is not for everyone, but can be incredibly effective.

Traditional classroom settings frequently offer little for kinesthetic learners, or those who learn best by doing. Something that most of us can probably do is roadschooling. I heard this term from a fellow homeschool mom and I love it. Take school on the road. Give each child a blank sketchbook or journal and encourage them to write and draw about what they see when you travel. Wisconsin is full of wildlife and nature preserves, wetlands, lakes, and parks to explore. I highly recommend buying a paper atlas and gazetteer. This is a book of enlarged maps of the state, and has far more detail and information than your average map app.

Take a day and drive some rustic roads. Get a state park sticker and visit as many parks as you can. Learn about the state park system and its history. Read every historical marker you find. Find the geographic center of the state. Find the highest point, and the second highest. Climb sandstone formations left behind at the end of the last ice age, and learn about the geological forces that shaped our state. Hike part of the ice age trail. Visit small town museums and talk to the people staffing them. Pick up field guides or download nature identification apps and go for walks just to look at stuff. See how many different kinds of mushrooms you can find near home. Take a lot of field trips; you don’t have to go far.

Pay attention to what your children are interested in and help them pursue those interests. This is an incredible and possibly once in a lifetime opportunity to help our kids dive deep into their favorite subjects.

A note on standards. My advice, based on my personal opinion, is to try to worry less about grade levels and meeting benchmarks, and play outside more. We are living through stressful times, and our kids will catch up. Children are resilient, and they’re going to be just fine.

If you have questions about homeschooling law, the Wisconsin Homeschooling Parents Association has been advocating for the rights of homeschooling families in Wisconsin since 1984, and their website has a wealth of information.